Get ready to embark on ye grand quest young paladins and adventurers, because the grandest adventure awaits in Disney Pixar’s latest animated extravaganza in Onward! And it’s filled to the brim with magic, escapism and plenty of heart.
Two elven brothers embark on a quest to bring their father back for one day.
Every time a new Disney Pixar film is announced it grabs my attention and I eagerly look forward to what awaits in a fabulous tale. We’ve come to expect originality from Pixar, and Onward is most definitely this. Director Dan Scanlon takes inspiration from his own life here and uses it to craft a beautiful film of family and love, as two quintessentially different brothers embark on a grand quest to find the magic to help bring their long-dead father back to life for a single day. Scanlon’s approach to this film is incredibly poignant and heartfelt, and as the Lightfoot brothers embark on their grand quest, audiences are pulled into a dashing tale of adventure that is packed together with plenty of surprising moments and heartfelt lessons.
When it comes to their narrative structure, Pixar has it down when it comes to the pairing of opposites and here in Onward, we couldn’t get a more opposite pair than Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt). Tom Holland’s Ian is the unsure of himself, overly bookish wallflower whose never up for the challenge, while his brother Barley, played to magnificence by Chris Pratt, is the overly-confident family screw-up who has a bit too much fun at the expense of others. When magic and destiny brings these two together they have to find their courage and put their differences aside to undertake a great quest to bring some mysticism back into their own lives and it’s sure is fun to watch. Both Holland and Pratt complement each other perfectly and as this film unfolds they get to bring out the best in each other. Part of Onward’s huge success is a result of the chemistry that is held between these two, and audiences will get a kick out of what they get up to here.
The imagination that Scanlon and his team bring to Onward is immense, and his use of the fantasy genre is one of of the most unique parts of the film. Bringing fantasy together with modern suburbia makes for a great laugh, and also grounds this film in a realness that the audience can relate to. It’s only when Ian and Barley attempt to bring their Dad back to life, and are then spirited off onto a grand adventure that they start to appreciate the magic around them and this is where Onward goes to town. As a storytelling technique, the film’s use of magic adds to the comedy and the interaction between these two characters. The film’s infamous bridge crossing is a great example of this that will blow audiences away! I for one was very entertained with how Scanlon used magic to extend the messages and meanings of his film, and there’s plenty to be excited with it.
Alongside its use of the fantasy genre, Scanlon gives Onward a great throwback quality. To me, Onward feels inspired by those great road movie/teen comedies of the 1980s. Films like the Back to the Future trilogy and Bill and Ted come to mind here with Onward, and Scanlon and his team did a great job of bringing out that retro feel. Part of this I believe comes from the way Scanlon twists classic American motifs within his fantasy setting. But this retro feeling particularly comes through the character of Barley Lightfoot, and the performance that star Chris Pratt’s conjured up in bringing him to life. Barley’s your typical metal-head slacker, who has a bit too much interest in the legends of the part, and whose behaviour causes him and Ian plenty of trouble. Throw in his trusty stead….or should we say van, Guinevere, and you’ve got the prototypical 80s character that is perfect for this world!
But above the character and magic of Onward is its story, and even though it’s fantastic to look upon, it’s the heart and love that exists at its base where Onward finds its magic. This film is ultimately the story of fatherhood and family, and when it does reach a conclusion, amidst all the magic, quests and dragons, it’s this story of fathers and sons that will garb you by your heartstrings…and you’ll certainly need to hold back those tears. In my own opinion, Onward is the most moving Disney-Pixar film I’ve watched since Monsters Inc, and its message and thematic core got to me and I loved the message that it gives to its audience.
Onward is a beautiful piece of animation that comes to life with magic, adventure and hope and it makes for perfect family fun. So gather your party of questers around you and embark upon watching this magnificent film, your hearts will surely thank-you for it.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures